The ‘Tree Of Life’ for ‘Beginners’

I ventured to Omaha in July to view Terrence Malick’s incredible “Tree of Life.”
I first came into contact with his work during my college years, when I was mesmerized by “Days of Heaven” and then took in “Badlands.”
His next two films, “The Thin Red Line” and “The New World” were good, but they didn’t quite ignite my mind like his first forays into cinema.

The only problem with my “Tree of Life” experience is that, due to circumstance, I had to watch it alone. And despite pleading with friends and family to go see it so I would have someone to discuss the film with, I have yet to meet a living soul who has viewed it. No matter your feelings on the film — love or hate or indifference (which would be hard to imagine) — it begs to be seen in a communal setting so it can be debated afterward. I feel like I’m being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by this film-viewing isolation. To quell the pain, I’ve read many online discussions of the film. But, you know, it’s just not the same as a living, breathing human being.

Please go see this film, and then come discuss it with me.

I won’t bore you here with my thoughts on it. Others have done so more coherently than I could hope to do. Let’s just say that I enjoyed it enough that, while in Omaha this past weekend, I considered sitting through its 2 1/2-hour runtime again — on my own. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

Here is the beginning of Roger Ebert’s glowing review:

Terrence Malick‘s “The Tree of Life” is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal lives. The only other film I’ve seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and it lacked Malick’s fierce evocation of human feeling. There were once several directors who yearned to make no less than a masterpiece, but now there are only a few. Malick has stayed true to that hope ever since his first feature in 1973.

Anthony Lane at the New Yorker was less enamored with the film:

So does the film burst the bounds of that emotion? Is it just too much? It certainly doesn’t know how to end; after two hours, I could have done without Sean Penn, dressed in Armani, kneeling on a beach, while the other characters mooch around like unwanted extras from “Zabriskie Point.” Afflatus has an unhappy habit, as Malick has proved before, of subsiding into a monotone. Tucked away inside the grandeur, though, and enlivened by jump cuts, is a sharp, not unharrowing story of a father and son, and, amid one’s exasperation, there is no mistaking Malick’s unfailing ability to grab at glories on the fly. When news of R.L.’s death arrives, the world reels and capsizes, yet even then we see the shadows of children—capering upside down, on the sunlit asphalt, like ghosts of what should have been.

And while I’m talking film, I’ve also had a hard time shaking “The Beginners.” I don’t think I realized how good it was until after some time had passed and I had the opportunity to contemplate it, to let it breathe in my head. Now I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

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